Pumpkin Pie Alternative: Marta's Torta di Zucca

The recipe was adapted from Marta’s torta di zucca, a winter squash and olive oil cake by Chef Pat Clark. Photograph by Gayle L. Squires

I tested this cake with kobucha squash and butternut squash, and both worked well. A 1½ pound gourd has about 1 pound of usable squash which, shredded, yields 2¼ very tightly packed cups. Use whatever squash you like, just make sure to watch carefully while it roasts so that it doesn’t burn. You can substitute any nut for the cashews — I think almonds or pecans would work nicely. While Clark’s original recipe called for hand-grating the squash, I used my food processor, which yielded slightly thicker pieces of squash.

The bake time for this cake is quite long and will vary depending on your oven and the type of pan that you use. I used a 9-inch round springform pan with high sides and the total bake time was one hour and ten minutes. For the first 30 minutes or so, cover the pan with aluminum foil that you’ve poked holes in — this will allow the cake to bake without letting the top burn. The holes prevent the cake from steaming.

Serves 8 to 10

For the cake:

1½ pounds kobucha squash (or 1 pound pre-peeled and cut butternut squash)
¾ cup cashews
2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing the pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1¾ cups white sugar
1 cup less 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the citrus glaze:

½ cup orange juice
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 425° F.

2) Cut the squash into quarters. Remove the stringy bits and seeds. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of your squash. Grate the squash using the large holes on a box grater or a food processor.

3) Spread the grated squash out on a baking tray and flash in the oven for 8-10 minutes to remove excess moisture from the squash. (A little color is okay, but don’t let the squash burn.)

4) Turn the oven down to 350° F. Toast the cashews for about 5 minutes until just slightly browned. Allow the nuts to cool and then coarsely chop.

5) Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with high sides by lightly spraying with oil. Dust the greased pan with flour, covering all surfaces and tapping out the excess flour.

6) In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

7) With a stand mixer on medium to medium-high, paddle together the eggs, sugar, olive oil and vanilla until light and creamy. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

8) Add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on low until just together. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the mixing bowl again. Add the squash and toasted nuts all at once, mixing on low until just incorporated. Don’t overmix.

9) Poke a few holes in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover your cake. Lightly tent the top of the cake, leaving room so it won’t touch the surface of the cake as it rises. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil tent, rotate cake and bake for 35-45 more minutes. Toothpick test the dead center to make sure your cake is fully baked.

10) While the cake is baking, whisk together the citrus glaze ingredients and leave on top of the stove to fully dissolve sugar. Whisk again prior to use.

11) Cool for 15-20 minutes and turn cake out onto a cooling rack. Immediately use a pastry brush to coat the top and sides with glaze, making sure to use all the glaze. You will think it’s too much, but it’s not. Allow the cake to completely cool before cutting.

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